Wine Wednesday

Tasting Notes: Open That Bottle Night Redux

More lessons in aging wine gracefully.

By Julie H. Case February 22, 2012

The contenders.

The wines: Syzygy, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; Nicholas Cole Cellars, 2005 Michelle; Waterbrook, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Introduction: This Saturday is the official Open That Bottle Night, which led me to bring seven friends together to open some things that had been in their cellars for a while. (Last week, we talked about one of those bottles, but there were a lot more around the table.)

As each bottle arrived, the owner filled out a tasting sheet, so we’d know what we were pouring and why it was special. The form also left room for tasting notes. (Download it here.) Then, we opened the bottles and let them breathe for not nearly long enough, and poured. Here’s what we learned:

The Syzygy: This bottle’s owner said he bought this particular wine largely because he thought it would age well. The result? The wine held its own, despite having been stored under the bed. Dark garnet in color, the nose was plummy and had a bit of stewed fruit. The wine had medium to high acid, and the tannins were robust.

The Nicholas Cole: This wine came to the party because—fitting the “Open That Bottle Night” theme—there was a special memory associated with it: Three members of the group visited the tasting room together in 2010; at the time, that was the only place the wine was available. In hindsight, buying that bottle was a good decision: Nicholas Cole Cellars is now closed.

Though the wine hadn’t even been held for two years, one of the group was flummoxed by the bottle owner’s ability to abstain. “Okay, how do you keep it that long?” she asked, to which the owner replied, “I wrote on it and put it in a special drawer I don’t open that often.”

We set to tasting this Bourdeaux blend and the first thing we notice is how it’s inky-dark and stains the glass. On the nose, there’s dark jammy fruit tone, layered over vanilla, which comes from the oak aging. On the palate, the alcohol is obvious (it should be, it’s a beast at 14.9 percent) but so are some stewed fruits. Like last week’s wine, I didn’t find a lot of backbone to it, but the group loved it for the vanilla on the nose and especially on the palate.

The Waterbook: This wine had probably been the most rigorously cellared: It was stored on its side at a consistent temperature of 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. How did it taste? Unfortunately, that’s where things went wrong. Sometimes, when you have a lot of people over for a tasting, you mess up. About 30 minutes after opening the wine, which had been aged 19 months in oak barrels before being bottled in 2008, we poured and it was immediately apparent the wine was still too tight and needed to breathe. So we set it aside to open up.

The problem with letting a wine breathe at a party is that sometimes the wine disappears before you’ve had a chance to evaluate it, which is what happened here. Unfortunately, all I know now about the wine is that the group liked it enough to drink it. All.

A note on storing wine: Not all of us have the luxury of a spare room; a cellar; a cool, quiet dark place where we can let our wines ruminate. Some of us must resort to that under-the-bed method. Still, if you can manage to find a spot just for your wines, you should know that wines are stored best in low light, under cool, consistent temperatures (ideally around 55 degrees), laying on their side.

Why the rigidity? Temperature fluctuations will prematurely age wines (but not in a good way) as will direct sunlight. A room with some humidity is actually good because, in an arid environment, corks have the possibility of drying up. And if your cork dries up, it will shrink, eventually letting air in. You may want the wine to breathe when you open it, but you don’t want it to breathe in the bottle. With this in mind, wines should also always be stored on their side, keeping the wine in contact with the cork.

Finally, your cellar shouldn’t stink. Odors can actually invade the bottle, which will cause all sorts of unpleasantness. Don’t, however, ever use bleach to clean your cellar.

And, for the record, the top of your fridge and on the windowsill are never, ever acceptable places to store your wine, Washington or otherwise.

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